Richard Ingrams' Week: Time for an inquiry into all the inquiry lawyers

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The Independent Online

It was almost exactly 25 years ago, in January 1972, that the Bloody Sunday shootings took place in Derry, and I wonder whatever happened to that inquiry into the shootings which was being conducted by Lord Savile. No report has appeared to date, and for all I know the inquiry is still in session with Savile and the lawyers getting older by the day - rather like the never-ending case of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce in Dickens' Bleak House.

This week is was reported that £100m has by now been spent on inquiries into Bloody Sunday and a few other controversial shootings. Pretty well all the money has been given to lawyers.

It goes without saying that nothing is likely to change. We are about to embark on a similar exercise - the Princess Diana inquest presided over by Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss. This has already got off to a good start with preliminary hearings about whether they should have a jury or not. If they are clever enough, or even if not, the lawyers should be able to spin that one out for at least a month or so.

The scandal is that the facts about the death of Diana have been established beyond a shadow of doubt for a great many years. There have now been two exhaustive and again very expensive investigations, one in France, one in England, both of which have concluded that Diana's death was an accident caused by dangerous driving by her chauffeur Henri Paul. Those of us who trust the word of journalists had known all that long before the official inquiries began.

Much the same is true, to a great extent, about Bloody Sunday, which has been the subject of scores of articles and books. Perhaps it is time now for an inquiry into the activities of all those lawyers who are the only ones to benefit from these absurdities.

BBC 'flagship' on the rocks

In 1989 BBC's Panorama broadcast a detailed and sensational expose of Dame Shirley Porter and her gerrymandering - what has been called "the worst case of corruption in local government ever".

It couldn't happen now. Panorama, still described as a "flagship" programme has been moved to Mondays and is limited to half-an-hour. In this paper on Monday George Entwhistle, the BBC's head of current affairs, described as amiable and bespectacled, tried to make a case for the new arrangement and rebut any charges of dumbing down.

"We've got loads of stuff in development," he said instancing forthcoming programmes about IVF treatment, the Litvinenko assassination, carers for the elderly and have-a-go heroes. The point about that schedule is that there is nothing remotely political about it - certainly not on the Porter scale. The ongoing disaster of Iraq, the Saudi bribes, the troubles of George Bush, the scandal of the sale of peerages, the Blair-Brown conflict - which in the old days would have been naturals for Panorama - are very definitely not on the menu.

The reason is perfectly obvious. Such subjects are inviting trouble - questions in the House, protests from foreign governments, possibly even litigation. Far better to stick to fertility clinics and old people's homes. So if there are have-a-go heroes, Mr Entwhistle is not likely to be among their number. And in the meantime the BBC will continue to boast that its coverage of current affairs is unparalleled in the civilised world.

* I have always thought of Harold Pinter as a faintly comical figure, but he is also an example of the rule that if you live long enough you may come to be regarded as a great man, even a genius. Pinter has already been given the Order of Merit, putting him up there with Thomas Hardy and Edward Elgar. Then came the Nobel Prize for Literature. And only the other day an emissary of the French government arrived to pin the ribbon of the Legion d'Honneur on Britain's greatest playwright. Who knows, even now there may be plans for a state funeral in Westminster Abbey.

Of many Pinter stories, I like best the one about his late father-in-law, Lord Longford. Shortly after his daughter Lady Antonia left her husband to live with Pinter (a move which as a "devout Catholic" he strongly disapproved of) Longford's son-in-law Kevin Billington invited him to see one of Pinter's plays that he had produced in a London theatre.

Longford decided he could not be seen at the first night, but agreed to come later in the run, and persuaded his great friend Malcolm Muggeridge to accompany him. Malcolm told me how Longford came out in the interval looking excited. Act One had been enough to convince him that Pinter was a lunatic. "Do you think we could get him certified?" he asked, seeing it as a brilliant way of ending his daughter's adulterous liaison.

theoldie@theoldie.co.uk

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